COVID-19 vaccinations

The statement below provides information on vaccinations against COVID-19 disease. Vaccination clinics are currently underway or scheduled at our senior living communities, with staff and residents receiving vaccine based on state and federal guidance (see the chart below).

A much-briefer question-and-answer document for residents and family members or responsible parties is available by clicking here. Also, please see the overall letter for family members signed by our CEO and corporate medical director.

Senior Living Campus First Clinics Second Clinics Third Clinics
Buffalo Valley Lutheran Village 12/28/20 1/18/21  
Cumberland Crossings 12/28/20 1/18/21 2/8/21
Diakon Senior Living - Hagerstown 12/30/20; 12/31/20 1/19/21; 1/20/21 2/9/21
Frey Village 12/29/20 1/18/21  
The Lutheran Home at Topton 12/29/20; 12/30/20 1/19/21; 1/21/21  
Luther Crest 1/8/21 1/28/21  
Manatawny Manor 1/7/21 1/28/21  
Ohesson  1/5/21 1/27/21  

Clinic schedules are subject to change based on various factors.


Webpage updated Jan. 8.

Introduction

“The coronavirus vaccine is never going to be worse than the virus,” notes a nationally recognized physician and professor of medicine.

That is, the potential side effects of the vaccines against the virus that causes COVID-19 disease do not match the sometimes-devastating results of the disease itself.

As of mid-December, more than 300,000 U.S. citizens have died as a result of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which can be particularly challenging for the older population Diakon serves, many of whom also have underlying health conditions. Approximately 40 percent of those deaths have occurred in nursing homes.

At Diakon, we know the effects of COVID-19 on senior living communities firsthand.

Despite following government recommendations and taking extensive precautions, we have experienced COVID-19 in our care centers. Sometimes, the impact of the virus has been limited. At other times, it has spread throughout a center’s population. Many residents are asymptomatic, but others become ill, sometimes having to be transferred to a hospital. And, unfortunately, some die, leaving behind loving families who in many cases have not been able to visit …

... and leaving behind the dedicated staff members who have cared for them and then watched them slip away.

These people—our residents and the staff members who care for them—are the key reasons Diakon wholeheartedly supports the use of vaccines against COVID-19 disease. 

There are, in fact, more than 1,000 reasons we support vaccination.

That’s the number of people for whom we daily offer care in our senior living communities, rehabilitation and nursing centers, housing complexes and personal care or assisted living communitiesAnd that number does not include our dedicated staff members, many of whom have been on the front-line of care since the pandemic began.

Each of these persons ... residents and staff members ... is one more reason we believe the vaccines are absolutely necessary for the health and safety of the people for whom we care and our frontline caregivers.

The Vaccines

People naturally may hesitate over new processes or medications. Two key concerns often are foremost about use of a vaccine against the novel coronavirus:

  • Vaccine development has been rushed.
  • The vaccine will have side effects.

Vaccine Development

Development of vaccines against this virus has occurred more rapidly than at any time in history. But remember that international resources were quickly marshalled to fight—and end—this pandemic because of its terrible impact on people and on economies, including people’s livelihoods and, certainly, mental health.

It’s important to remember the following:

  • A vaccine must meet intense safety criteria before completing each of four phases. By the time a vaccine has been approved for use after Phase 3, it has been tested in tens of thousands of people. If no significant side effects arise, the vaccine is considered safe. Phase 4 then involves continuing monitoring for side effects and safety. This process has been in place for decades.
  • The most important requirement in vaccine testing is safety. That safety is reviewed by experts independent of the vaccine developer.
  • Most adverse side effects arise within six weeks of vaccination, but the federal Food and Drug Administration—or FDA—has required eight weeks of monitoring related to the COVID-19 vaccines.
  • Typical FDA guidelines seek 3,000 participants to assess safety. The COVID-19 vaccine trials have had 30,000 to 50,000 participants.

Two advisory committees are involved in vaccine review: the Vaccine and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, which advises the FDA, and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which advises the federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Both of these boards are independent and consist of experts from academic institutions whose backgrounds are reviewed to make certain they have no conflicts of interest.

These committees evaluate vaccine trial and related data for safety and effectiveness and also help to determine distribution. Because the COVID-19 pandemic represents a public health emergency, these committees began looking at data early in the process.

Emergency Use Authorizations are sought when there is an urgent health crisis, as we are experiencing now. While that authorization may decrease the length of time from vaccine research to distribution, no safety steps are omitted. The FDA still re-evaluates data to ensure all calculations are accurate.

Not only have the vaccine trials demonstrated the safety of the vaccines, they also have shown they are highly effective. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been shown to be 94% to 95%, the highest ever. 

Moreover, the vaccines were tested on people recruited to represent those of different ages, races and ethnicities, in addition to people with various medical conditions.

A safety concern people express relates to the type of these vaccines.

Messenger RNA vaccines are indeed new, but the technology has been successfully used in cancer treatments.

Essentially, these types of vaccines contain material from the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which instructs our cells how to create a harmless protein unique to this virus. After our cells make copies of that protein, they destroy the genetic material in the vaccine. It is important to underscore that the protein cannot create a virus or cause an infection.

In other words, the vaccines cannot give you COVID-19 disease! 

The vaccines function by making our bodies recognize that this protein should not be there. We build antibodies to the protein, which will “remember” how to fight the SARS-CoV-2 virus should we become infected.

  • None of these vaccines contain viral particles, either weakened, live or killed (the way some existing vaccines work).
  • Receiving two doses has been demonstrated safe and is not unique to these vaccines. Others in use for years require two doses to be effective and build sufficient immunity.
  • There are other types of vaccines also being studied, which are similar to those used for other diseases.

Side Effects

Ever have a sore shoulder after having received a flu or tetanus vaccination? That is a side effect.

The vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 virus also have side effects, but trials indicate they tend to occur shortly after receiving the vaccination; the side effects seem to diminish within 24 hours or less.

Most important: Side effects mean your body is developing immunity. That is critical!

These are the most prevalent side effects:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Chills or fever
  • Muscle pain
  • Injection-site pain

As noted, these side effects are the result of your body developing immunity. You are preparing yourself to fight the virus, should you become infected. This is a good thing!

Some people report that the side effects are more intense following the second injection. While this is a typical reaction, people should be prepared for that temporary discomfort. You can consult with your primary care physician about ways to minimize these effects.

Even if you have some side effects after the first injection, it is critical you receive the second injection so that the vaccine is fully effective.

As a side note, it’s possible for someone already infected and perhaps asymptomatic to receive the vaccine and then become ill or test positive. That simply means they were already infected—they did not develop COVID-19 disease because of the vaccination.

There have been a few reports of allergic reactions by those who previously had similar reactions; these are being taken into consideration in preparations for the vaccinations and response to any individual issues.

No one is quite sure yet how often the vaccination will need to be administered but some current studies indicate annual injections may be required, similar to current influenza vaccinations.

Other Concerns

Other cited reasons for not wanting to receive the vaccinations include the cost of the vaccination, time to receive it, the use of harmful ingredients in the vaccine itself, vaccination efficacy and religious belief.

  • There is no cost to you to receive the vaccine!
  • The vaccines, as noted above, contain instructional material to create a harmless protein to trigger an immune response. Nothing else is considered harmful—and, as noted, you cannot develop COVID-19 disease from the vaccine.
  • Diakon will schedule clinics during worktime for staff members to receive the vaccinations. Care residents will receive the vaccinations, when available, on-site.
  • Diakon recognizes that some people will have a religious objection to the vaccine. We fully respect those beliefs—after all, Diakon is a church-affiliated organization with a deep history of serving in response to God’s call to love the neighbor and a sense of mission that arises from our roots and traditions—yet we hope everyone recognizes the importance of this particular vaccination, especially in relation to the health of others, and will choose to receive it. We will, however, treat each request for exception to our vaccination policy on an individual basis.

After Vaccination

The vaccines do not immediately provide protection from the virus that causes COVID-19 disease. You will therefore need to continue taking precautions:

  • Wear a mask and other personal protective equipment, as required or recommended for your position.
  • Continue to physical-distance and use enhanced sanitation procedures (hand-washing, disinfecting surfaces, etc.).

The efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines, however, will make you much less likely to become ill and spread the virus to family members, friends and coworkers.

You also will need to remain vigilant and maintain safety protocols because many others around you may not as yet have received the vaccinations. While the vaccine should prevent COVID-19 disease in you, you might still be able to transmit the virus to others, particularly those not yet protected by vaccination.

It will take time for the United States to develop something like herd immunity. The faster that occurs, however, the more quickly we can return to that life we once called normal.

And remember: Even if you tested positive, showed the presence of antibodies or had COVID-19 disease itself, it is still important that you be vaccinated as well. Data show it is safe to receive the vaccine in that case and it should increase your protection from the virus and its effects.

In Summary

COVID-19 disease and the vaccines against it are new. While anything new may cause concerns for people, we do know one thing: COVID-19 has caused serious illness and death for many people. Those infected risk not only becoming ill, but also transmitting the virus to loved ones. Even if you do not become sick, your loved one might. Receiving the vaccination is a far safer choice.

In receiving the vaccine, an older woman in Great Britain noted that she and her peers—her generation—have always been pioneers. They have survived wars, economic upheavals and even other pandemics (many remember polio, for example) and they have always forged ahead, done what they could to make the world right again and to provide a safer world for their neighbors and their children.

At Diakon, we believe the COVID-19 vaccinations are our clarion call to be similar pioneers, to protect ourselves, our residents, our family members and our neighbors.


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